It’s only a matter of time before Laura Oyier graduates into a full-blown socialite, Kenyan style. She’s pretty, has an appreciation for the finer things in life, and dresses like she just walked off a fashion runway.
How she got introduced to us — via an embarrassing court picture after she failed to pay the Intercontinental Hotel, Nairobi Sh230,000 — will quickly turn into a badge of honour.
Think about the most famous in the socialite spectrum, Vera Sidika. She now runs a “hair lounge” on Ngong’ Road in Nairobi (think of it as a supermarket for weaves). I haven’t been there, so I don’t know if any of them costs the Sh500,000 she told us she spent on her weave.
Instagram user @the_seeker_of_truth_ may have just exposed her as a high-end call girl, but the world has not fallen off its axis.
“My accounts got hacked,” she told me on WhatsApp last week.
“You know that’s the oldest excuse in the book, right?” I asked her bemusedly.
The unnamed user created a different account and pretended to be a rich married man in Dubai looking for a week of fun while his wife was away.
In private messages back to him, Vera is alleged to have asked for Sh1.38 million and a business class ticket to Dubai. She is also alleged to have promised sex, with some conditions, before the anonymous user revealed his true mission, which is to uncover those of questionable morals.
“Why on earth would anyone think I’d be stupid to chat a ghost?” she asked me rhetorically.
The socialite of indeterminate age says she never discusses business on text and asks clients, even for club bookings, to call — she hosts nights at clubs where pictures have previously shown her working the pole. Club owners love the buzz the socialites bring and do not mind the negative publicity around them because it earns them patrons in carloads.
Former Big Brother Africa contestant Huddah Monroe and Ugandan socialite Zari Hassan had a show in Nairobi on Saturday. Art of Luxury, the owners of Skyluxx Lounge billed it, with “Huddah the Bosschick” and “Zari the Bosslady”.
Zari is most famous for dating Tanzanian singer Diamond and Huddah came to us via the time-tested avenue of nude pictures on the Internet. They live on the fast lane, sipping expensive drinks for social media’s benefit, flying business class and making many references to their businesses, even if what exactly they entail remains mysterious.
“In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes,” Andy Warhol said in 1968. That was before the Internet as we know it today.
Heck, socialites of 1968 were people of upper-class social standing who threw charity parties and fundraisers. They were not the low-life, talentless bimbos who today run around chalked in war paint in the name of makeup, selling nothing but their backsides.
The obvious question is why the media gives this category of people acres of print coverage and hours of broadcast time. And the answer is obvious, too.
“You forgot the first rule of mass media, Elliot! Give the people what they want!” That was Pierce Brosnan’s character in the 1997 James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies.
The truth is, the media is a reflection of society. If you don’t like what it reflects back at you, then you may need to change yourself.
The Laura Oyiers and Vera Sidikas of this world exist because you enable them. You follow them on Instagram and comment on their expensive lifestyles, you go out to the clubs when they’re hosting and you buy their overpriced weaves.
If you don’t believe me, consider this: my interview with Vera from June last year has over 430,000 views on YouTube. By the time you read this, Laura’s appearance on #theTrend from early this month will probably have hit 100,000 views. If nobody was interested in this content, nobody would be watching it obsessively.
By comparison, the video of 14-year-old math genius Rhea Shah’s interview on my show has just over 15,000 views. It has been on the Internet for almost a year now and is the kind of inspirational, challenging content people always pretend they want more of.
Keroche Breweries CEO Tabitha Karanja says she started the business with just Sh200,000. She was on the show last November yet her interview has just 2,161 views.
Over the last two and a half years, I have done light variety stuff on #theTrend on Friday nights and serious news-making interviews on Weekend Edition on Saturdays and Sundays. Viewers gravitated towards the comedians, entertainers and other oddities on Friday and largely stayed clear of the important issues on the other days. Don’t blame the media for the socialites, blame yourself. The media can’t ignore what you want, even as they set the agenda.
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THE EASY GRACE OF JOHN SIBI-OKUMU
He’s been in front of a microphone since he was 10, yet, 50 years later, he still speaks with the casual conversational manner of an everyday guy, not an accomplished broadcaster and actor with both of his boys at the hallowed Berklee College of Music.
I sat next to him at dinner while ambassador Rémi Maréchaux tried to kill us with an ostentatious seven-course meal in celebration of French gastronomy. “When I was a student I didn’t eat these, just couscous from Morocco,” he said with an easy laugh as the foie gras were served. JSO switched languages easily, speaking to me in English, to Jean-Pierre from the embassy in French and Kizito in Luhya. Or Kiswahili, depending on what he wanted to say.
We talked about how broadcasting had changed, whether he missed television, and the space for serious journalism in Kenya. He listened to me, and really paid attention, not in the half-listening way people do when they can’t wait for their turn to speak again. Oh, and he didn’t bring his phone to the table to distract him all night. “Ahsante, kaka,” I thanked him as if we were age-mates. “No, ahsante baba,” he shot back with a smile. Class.
CHANNEL O AFRICA IS SHUTTING DOWN
Channel O helped put African music on the map. Growing up in the ’90’s, it was the one destination where you would see the best musicians on the African continent and get excited whenever the odd Kenyan video came up. For youth starved of creative content and condemned to just KBC, KTN was almost revolutionary for airing an hour or two of Channel O.
All the presenters were South African, of course, who spoke with that entertaining Southern African twang. But they curated the continent’s music and presumably put the best on air. Kabelo and the rest of the gang were our connection to what Africa was dancing to.
Multichoice is shutting down the Africa feed of the music channel after more than 20 years. It will remain in Southern Africa but the rest of us have to make do with other Africa Magic channels.
There’s now MTV Base and lots of other music channels, but the one that started it all will be no more. Thanks for the music.